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Mourning phases

At the beginning I would like to emphasize that not every person has to have the phases listed below and not necessarily in this order. You can also go back in mourning to the phase in which you have already been and experience similar feelings again.

The first phase is called the shock phase. The feelings experienced in this phase are: disbelief, inner confusion, anger, helplessness, psychological distancing and guilt. The shock experienced by people in the encounter with death depends on various factors, such as: attachment to the deceased, how the loved one passed away, and whether that death was expected or not. In the case of a child’s death, pain is much stronger because a person does not allow the thought that a small child can pass away. Often parents blame themselves for failing to take care of their child. We feel responsible for death until we work out our guilt.

It must also be said that we must not be afraid of guilt, because guilt is a normal reaction to which we must prepare ourselves in the process of mourning. It is related to the feelings that are inside us. Once we experience positive and sometimes negative feelings. We can blame ourselves for doing something or for what we should have done , but we didn’t make it. In the initial phase of mourning, we concentrate in our memories on the bad moments, which causes torment. It is only after some time has passed that we can see an objective picture of our behaviour and the situations that took place during the lifetime of the person who has passed away. We can also feel guilty that we are alive and a person close to our heart has passed away. We feel guilty about the aggression that is born in us. Sometimes we feel guilty about the feeling of relief from the death of a person who has passed away after long suffering. In general, there are two types of guilt. The feeling of guilt that is exaggerated, imagined in relation to false events; it is normal in the process of mourning: “I should try to understand it or have more patience.” And the second type is guilt, which is based on true circumstances. It is when we have caused actual harm to a deceased person. In this sense of guilt, you have to admit what you have done and try to compensate for it. Punishment can be self-destructive and therefore, it is better to take certain actions that will provide redress.

It should also be mentioned that in this phase we may have to deal with an aggression. Practically always after the death of a loved one we can expect aggression. This is normal behaviour caused by taking something or someone close to us away. Aggression can be directed. We can direct it towards the deceased, towards ourselves, others or towards God. Aggression directed at the deceased can be a regret that he or she left us alone or that he or she did not care about his or her health. When we direct aggression towards ourselves, it leads us to self-destruction. Life shows that most often the aggression is directed towards others and worst of all towards people with whom we have a very close relationship.

This can lead to a weakening of family relationships and even to divorce. In this phase of shock, inner chaos and a sense of loss also arise. Everything that was stable suddenly goes wrong. This shock makes grief long and difficult. After a while, the shock ends and we slowly and clearly feel the pain. This is the transition to the second phase of mourning.

The second phase is the realization of loss. There is anxiety caused by isolation, emotional conflicts, chronic stress, hypersensitivity, anger. It should be noted, that the most troubling in this phase is emotional disorganization. The awareness of the death of a loved one, especially a child, causes the feeling of an unbearable burden. The appearance of anger, frustration and shame. We become more sensitive to what others say and react faster.

The feeling of chaos and disorientation can be one of the most dangerous aspects of grief and lead to isolation. These feelings appear when we become aware of the reality of loss. We feel anxiety, distraction. We are under the influence of strong emotions and at the same time we are missing the clarity of thinking. Chaos is seen in the decisions we make. Sometimes we see that we take some tasks and leave them unfinished. We are unable to complete specific tasks and feel tired. The feeling of chaos can usually appear in the morning and late evening. It is difficult to sleep and we wake up early. There is also a nervous search for the person who is gone. We lose energy and strength in remembering and memorizing the deceased, and this changes our perception of reality. We start to have hallucinations about the past. It is very important not to hold these feelings within ourselves, but to be able to express them Phase two ends with physical and mental exhaustion, which leads to the third phase of mourning.

The third phase of mourning is self-protection and withdrawal. This is where the signs of despair, weakness of the immune system and fatigue appear. Self-protection begins when the body and mind demand rest. This need is incomprehensible and unacceptable to many people. But it has to be accepted because it is needed and it is very positive. We have to step back from contact with other people in order to spend more time in peace and quiet and most importantly to regenerate our mental and physical condition through sleep. This phase often lasts for many months, it can be a period of great despair, because the defensive attitudes have weakened. Despair is associated with abandonment, a feeling of loneliness and being left by deceased. We feel depressed and numb. We are not happy, we have no desire to live and we remain in an emotional depth. Tears appear which we do not control and we look for their cause. Sometimes we have moments when we want to cry, but are unable to and feel blocked. We feel emotionally vulnerable like children. In fact, the phase of withdrawal and protection is meant to help us regain the lost energy that we lost during the first two phases and accept reality.

After the third phase there is a turning-point in mourning and this phase is called recovery. During this phase we may encounter the following symptoms: regaining control, giving up old roles, creating a new identity, forgiving and forgetting, searching for meaning and healing wounds. The process of recovery is slow and very often we are not aware of change.  We may feel some slight energy flow or mood improvement. We notice that our interests are returning and we feel relaxed. We also start to control our lives more consciously and set new goals. You will have to resign from your old roles and reorganize your identity. We are no longer the same as before. Making such a change is not without some resistance, because it requires big changes in our personality. Renewal – this is the name of the last phase of mourning. It is characterized by: developing a new self-awareness, accepting responsibility, learning to live without the deceased and old roles, taking care of our inner needs, active contact with the world. If we are able to abandon our former roles and previous identities, we can see the development of new life in us. We see that our future does not look so tragic anymore. Despite the pain and suffering still present, we start to see light at the end of the tunnel and become more optimistic, which is a sign of a new self-awareness developing within us and a slow adaptation to new realities and new roles. However, it is important to be aware that we will not run away from the past and will always experience the memories associated with the deceased. There will also be a longing and a sense of loneliness in our lives, but this should not be feared and run away from, because this is part of our life and our history.

Wrote by

Paweł Dobrzyński

1.Por.: tamże, s.34.
2.Zob.: M. Keirse, dz. cyt., s. 47-48.
3.Por.: tamże, s. 46-47.
4.Por.: C. M. Sanders, dz. cyt., s. 35.
5.Zob.: tamże, s. 36-37.6. Zob.: M. Keirse, dz. cyt., s. 44.

  1. Por.: C. M. Sanders, dz. cyt., s. 40.
  2. Zob.: M. Keirse, dz. cyt., s. 44.
  3. Por.: C. M. Sanders, dz. cyt.,. s. 203.
  4. Zob.: http://www.hospicja.pl/opieka_psych/article/275/102.html,12.07.2007.
  5. Zob.: http://www.hospicja.pl/opieka_psych/article/275/102.html,12.07.2007.
    12.Por.: C. M. Sanders, dz. cyt., s. 206